A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Greatest Hits, Volume 2

Just in time for the holidays, we're happy to announce the arrival of 33 1/3 Greatest Hits, Vol 2.

350 fun-packed pages, featuring extracts from titles 21 through 40 in the series. In my mind, it documents the series' teenage years - cocky, nervous, experimental, excitable, with obvious growth spurts, just a little acne and at least three apalling hairstyles. But loveable, through it all.

The books excerpted are:

Elvis Costello's Armed Forces, by Franklin Bruno
R.E.M.'s Murmur, by J. Niimi
Jeff Buckley's Grace, by Daphne Brooks
DJ Shadow's Endtroducing, by Eliot Wilder
The MC5's Kick Out the Jams, by Don McLeese
David Bowie's Low, by Hugo Wilcken
Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., by Geoffrey Himes
The Band's Music from Big Pink, by John Niven
Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, by Kim Cooper
The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, by Dan LeRoy
The Pixies' Doolittle, by Ben Sisario
Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, by Miles Marshall Lewis
The Stone Roses, by Alex Green
Nirvana's In Utero, by Gillian G. Gaar
Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, by Mark Polizzotti
My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, by Mike McGonigal
The Who's Sell Out, by John Dougan
Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand, by Marc Woodworth
Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, by Matthew Stearns
Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, by Sean Nelson

We didn't do the Under-21 Essay Contest this time around, because I've been too busy this summer. Sorry about that!

Anyhow, we hope you enjoy this compilation - it's a great way of introducing people to the series, if you're feeling gifty.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Some weekend reading from the Powell's blog

As mentioned a few entries below, Powell's Books is running a buy 2, get 1 free deal on 33 1/3's, and have asked 33 1/3 authors to write some guest posts for their blog. Here is your update.

The new:
* Highway 61 Revisited author Mark Polizzotti outs himself as a lover of the Moody Blues. (I used to own a well-worn copy of the 101 Strings tribute to Moody Blues! Guilty pleasures, indeed...)
* A Tribe Called Quest author Shawn Taylor on "Who Owns the Art?"
* Exile on Main Street author Bill Janovitz on the Beatles, parenthood, and nostalgia.
* The Ramones author Nick Rombes on Jimmy Carter, the 1970s, and the Electric Eels.
* The Smiths' Meat Is Murder author Joe Pernice on William Gibson.

...and the recent:
* Editor David Barker on the 33 1/3 series here.
* Dusty in Memphis author Warren Zanes on the aforementioned David Barker here.
* Belle & Sebastian author Scott Plagenhoef on the online release of Radiohead's "In Rainbows" is here.

...and on deck for next week:
* Pet Sounds author Jim Fusili.
* Elvis Costello's Armed Forces author Franklin Bruno.
* James Brown Live at the Apollo author Douglas Wolk.

...and many more to follow!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nick Drake's Pink Moon

Following closely on the heels of our recent U2 and Belle & Sebastian books in the series, Amanda Petrusich's book on Nick Drake is now available.

The book gives a little backstory into Drake's life, charts the circumstances of the album's creation, and takes a long look at the ad campaign that brought the album to the attention of mainstream America a few years ago. Here's an extract from right at the start of the book:


Thirty-three years have passed since Nick Drake’s death, but it is still shamefully easy to romanticize his demise—to sniff and glaze, translating a pedestrian drug overdose into epic, ridiculous verse, twisting his story into one long, tortured poem about art and depression and youth and emptiness. Unfortunately, part of what makes Nick Drake so potent a figure is also what makes his legacy feel so contrived: Drake’s (presumed) suicide validated his music much as Kurt Cobain’s would two decades later, lending his songs credence and weight. Now, when we hear Drake sing about feeling anxious and alone and invisible, we trust his despair. When we listen to Pink Moon, it is impossible not to feel death, huge and looming, inevitable and infinite, close and closer.

Flipping off all the lights, propping open a creaky old window, and listening to Pink Moon is just about as close as anyone can get to Nick Drake now. Only the fortunate few who knew Drake personally can effectively evoke his body and voice. There is no confirmed footage of Drake performing, smoking cigarettes, smiling, reading, eating, sleeping, sighing, walking, or breathing, although if you paw through the amateur videos posted on YouTube for long enough, you’ll eventually uncover a mute, eleven-second, slow-motion video clip of a tall, lanky figure with long hair loping through a folk festival, wearing a maroon blazer and beige pants. The clip’s silence is chilling; below, in the website’s comments section, agitated fans debate whether or not the figure—it could be anyone—is actually Nick Drake. Likewise, there is only one confirmed document of Drake’s speaking voice, aside from a few inconsequential bits of speech caught during recording sessions: Several years ago, a short, garbled audiotape of a nineteen-year-old Drake, rambling into a recorder after returning home to Far Leys from a party, emerged. “Good evening, or should I say good morning? It’s twenty-five to five, I’ve been sitting here for some time, actually, in this room,” Drake warbles. His voice is deep and soft and thick with alcohol. The tape’s contents swing from unintentionally hilarious (“I think I must have drunk rather a lot. . . . I think I drove the whole way home on the right side of the road. . . . It is extremely pleasant sitting here now, because I think there’s something extraordinarily nice about seeing the doorknob before one goes to bed, there’s something uncanny about it”) to dismal (“In moments of stress, such as was this journey home, one forgets, so easily, the lies, the truth, and the pain”).

Because there are so few artifacts of Nick Drake’s life (as Molly Drake later explained, “There is so little that Nick left behind, apart from the legacy of his music. . . . He never wrote anything down, never kept a diary, hardly even wrote his name in his own books . . . it was as if he didn’t want anything of himself to remain except his songs”) we are now required to piece together a figure from other people’s memories, parsing hindsight from truth, re-examining lyrics, chords, tunings, and syntax, scouring all available options for clues to Drake’s truth. As Patrick Humphries notes, the dearth of nonmusical insights into Drake’s persona also leads to a certain amount of projection, with Drake’s massive mythology trumping, in many cases, his work. “Nick Drake becomes a blank canvas on which admirers can paint their own pictures, project their own lives and troubles; a mirror in which people see their own pain and lost promise,” Humphries writes. And because Drake’s music is so intensely personal—as producer Joe Boyd told the NME, “He’s someone whose story really is in the songs . . . the songs in a way became less about other people and more about himself as time went on”—it is especially difficult to divorce Drake’s music from the dire circumstances of his waking life, to listen honestly and without bias. Instead, we build tiny bridges, linking sighs and pauses and dark bits of lyrics with our notions of Drake—his hair matted and thick with grease, clothes rumpled and stained, fingernails gnarled and curling, his body slumped at a desk, speechless, lifeless, hopeless.

Within Drake’s limited discography—within Pink Moon, especially—it’s possible (easy, even) to establish a timeline of depressive illness. Still, it feels dangerous and disingenuous, conflating art with life, making presumptions, reading anguish into each dismal couplet, imposing external narratives on an internal art. The single-named Cally—a former creative director at Island Records’ London office who, along with Drake’s sister, Gabrielle, now manages Drake’s posthumous estate— adamantly maintains that Drake recorded Pink Moon while in temporary remission from his depression and that, accordingly, the record should not be understood as an artifact of his disease. “Nick was incapable of writing and recording whilst he was suffering from periods of depression. He was not depressed during the writing or recording of Pink Moon and was immensely proud of the album, as letters to his father testify,” Cally insists. “Some journalists and book writers have found this fact disappointing, as it doesn’t reflect their own impression of the album. Nick confounded these impressions often. I think all of Nick’s albums are understood and misunderstood to the same degree. In that lies their great beauty and welcomed mystery. When it came to the album’s creator, well, no one understood him as such.” I recognize the hazards and falsehoods inherent to crossing these particular wires. That doesn’t always mean I can stop myself.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Big (Pink) in Latvia

I finally managed to get my hands on an elusive copy of the new Latvian edition of John Niven's Music From Big Pink novella.

It's a beautiful edition - a splendid pink hardcover, printed in brown ink, with a lovely red ribbon. It also includes mini-biographies of the key players at the end of the book, including Livons Helms and Bobs Dilans.

The Latvian publisher is Izdevnieciba AGB, and you can check out their website here.

In other John Niven news, his first full-length novel, Kill Your Friends, will be coming out in the UK in February, and will be published in the US in 2008 by HarperPerennial. No further news (yet) on the movie adaptation of Big Pink...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Powell's guest blogger updates

Just a quick roundup of the 33 1/3 authors guest blogging on the Powell's Books blog...
* Editor David Barker on the 33 1/3 series here.
* Dusty in Memphis author Warren Zanes on the aforementioned David Barker here.
* Belle & Sebastian author Scott Plagenhoef on the online release of Radiohead's "In Rainbows" is here.
Powell's is running a Buy 2, Get One Free sale on the 33 1/3's. On deck for guest blogging this week are Nick Rombes (The Ramones), Bill Janovitz (Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street), and Shawn Taylor (A Tribe Called Quest's Peoples Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm).
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

33 1/3 authors doing other things, pt. 4

1. Kim Cooper, author of our Neutral Milk Hotel book, is launching a new Rock History Tour in Hollywood, with Gene Sculatti. It launches on Sunday this weekend, the 21st, and you can find out all about it here.

2. Miles Marshall Lewis, author of our Sly Stone book, has a rather splendid looking new website/blog that deals with - in Miles' words - "pop culture, hiphop and the arts (movies, photography, theater, etc.), as well as the lifestyle of a black American New Yorker (me) expatriated to Paris." You can check it out here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

33 1/3 authors on the Powells.com blog

There are some very cool things afoot over at Powell's Books blog starting this evening. Powell's is running a 33 1/3 sale (buy 2, get 1 free), and as part of that, they have asked some of the 33 1/3 authors to do some guest posts on their blog.

By way of introduction, we kick things off this evening with the illustrious editor of the series, David Barker, explaining how the series came about, where it is now, and where it is headed in the future.

Enjoy! There are about 20 more guest bloggers from the 33 1/3 series to come...
John Mark

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tom Waits, Swordfishtrombones

For those of you who've been patiently waiting for David Smay's splendid book on Swordfishtrombones in the series, some good news - the book is now in production, and we'll have finished copies in December or January.

The book tackles in the album in a track-by-track fashion, but takes many fascinating detours along the way. Here's an extract from towards the end.


I want to take a tangent into another period of troubles for Tom. In his early adolescence, Tom Waits lost the ability to filter out sound. The most innocuous sounds – his mother’s hand trailing across his bedsheet, or a car passing on the street – became unbearably present, intensely discomfiting experiences. He thought he was going insane. It usually came on him at night as he lay in bed. To ground himself he would mutter and chant nonsense syllables (“shack a bone, shack a bone”) until the episode passed.

At one point in an interview he even speculated about having had a “bout of autism.” More recently he’s related it to his issues with vertigo, an inner ear disturbance. Certainly issues with sensory integration are symptomatic of autism and it’s the rare interviewer who doesn’t note his tendency to wrap his arms around his body and rock back and forth as he talks, which is very reminiscent of classic “stimming” behavior for autistics. In most respects, though, Tom Waits is a poor candidate for an autistic diagnosis. His entire songwriting career testifies to his capacity for empathy and emotional nuance.

Whatever caused Tom’s breakdown in sensory integration passed within a few years and by the time he was in his late teens he had already begun his musical career. What’s interesting, though, is that he didn’t simply overcome a pathology, but incorporated it into his creative process.

His ear is still fantastically sensitive to sonic textures and hearing an instrument’s unexploited sonic potential. While Tom himself can credit his friend and fellow musician John Lurie for his ability to pick up a piece of pipe in a field and get a good tone out of it, Tom’s the one who built a rhythm track out of beating a chest of drawers into kindling with a two-by-four.

The avant-garde composer John Cage pioneered an aesthetic that encouraged chance in composition, that was alert to sound-as-music. Tom Waits’ unusual sensitivity to sound, and his ready willingness to incorporate “mistakes” into his songwriting and recording process, make him especially attuned to Cage’s theories.

In an interview with Elvis Costello, Tom Waits says of his wife:

"Kathleen's always trying to kick my ass up the scale a little bit because I find that if I'm left to my own devices I will discover various shades of brown. And I'm seeing them of course as red and yellow next to each other. She says, what you've just really created here is sludge, dirty water. So I kind of have to be reminded of that. I'm also color-blind, which is kind of interesting. I juggle with brown and green and blue and red, and green looks brown, brown looks green, purple looks blue, blue looks purple. I don't see the world in black and white, but I'll never make the Air Force."

Another intriguing aspect of Tom’s songwriting is the snatches of nursery rhyme which float free of their source and catch in his songs. Among numerous examples, two of his best known occur on Rain Dogs in the songs “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and “Clap Hands.” In “Jockey Full of Bourbon” the children’s rhyme “Ladybug, ladybug” transmutes into “Hey little bird, fly away home / your house is on fire, your children all alone.” In “Clap Hands” he builds his song on the meter of the jump rope classic “The Goose Drank Wine.” The original goes “wine, wine, the goose drank wine/ the monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line / the line broke, the monkey got choked / we all went to heaven in a little row boat.” Tom turns it into, “Shine, shine a Roosevelt dime / All the way to Baltimore and running out of time.”

While these aren’t exactly the nonsense rhymes he used to ward off his spells of vertigo, I do think they’re related. That reflexive adaptation of rhythmic rhyming became innate, running in the background of his conscious process. So the very defensive gesture he developed in his teens to fend off his bouts of sonic vulnerability, the nonsense and nursery rhymes he’d repeat until he felt stabilized, also found its way into his work.

It’s fascinating to see Tom take that hypersensitivity to sound and his adaptive rhyming behavior into the very core of his songwriting. In the last twenty years, breakthroughs in neuroscience have radically rewritten our understanding of synaesthesia, color blindness, sensory integration and supertasters. Where once Descartes could speculate about a demon on our shoulder intercepting and distorting our senses, now it appears that we each come equipped with our own demon – that the normative range of human senses is just the overlap on a Venn diagram.

I’ve known too many mental health advocates to romanticize “madness” as divine inspiration, and you wouldn’t wish Tom’s torturous teen years on anybody. But it’s instructive to see how closely aligned his gifts and his deficit were. It’s not always clear when perception strays beyond the normative range whether that unusual sensitivity will be crippling or a source of creation.

When I first read about Tom’s trial by sound I was struck by how cruel it would be to have an affliction that made everyday noise into a horror. When those episodes receded for him, I think it must’ve have been an almost blissful relief. It must have been like Caliban’s speech in the Tempest: “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, / Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”


Friday, October 12, 2007

Radiohead and the Sequins

Listening to the Radiohead album on my headphones, I can’t shake the thought that this record sounds like a Mercedes-Benz. It’s a luxury cocoon, coddling you in sumptuous leather, hi-tech climate control systems, finished with an exotic walnut trim and discreetly padded with dozens of perfectly placed miniature airbags. It feels like music made by rich people, in a very rich studio. Damn, I feel spoilt just listening to it! Every click, every hum, every whirr, every vowel – it all sounds so perfectly engineered and constructed, hermetically sealed to keep the world at bay. Even the skuzzy guitars on “Bodysnatchers” (a wonderful song, up there with “House of Cards” as my favourite) have been precisely and repeatedly honed, so they’re not really dirty at all. “Stay with us, in here,” Thom is whispering. “We’ll look after you.”

If you’re feeling even remotely guilty about underpaying for your download of In Rainbows, and maybe want to send some hard-earned cash the way of a band and label that could probably use it, why not try the Sequins? Straight outta Coventry, they have the same nervous, skittery intensity as Radiohead – it’s just cheaper, simpler, more lovable, more Altered Images than Talk Talk. You can pre-order the debut album The Death of Style from Tough Love Records right now, and they’ll let you download all the songs in advance. The album’s handmade, sequintastic packaging looks much sexier than Radiohead’s deluxe discbox, too. And I can’t hear any songs on In Rainbows as inspired as “Let’s Go Drinking in the Morning” or epic closer “The French Way of Life,” either. Roll down the windows, breathe in the chilly air, rev up your crappy little engine, and take a spin.

Those first two chapters

Just a quick reminder that a PDF of the first two chapters of our upcoming Celine Dion 33 1/3 book is still available, to anyone who sends an email request to:


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dan LeRoy's new book, on the radio

Dan LeRoy is the author of our 33 1/3 book on Paul's Boutique - the favourite book in the series of many people I've met.

Dan's new book is The Greatest Music Never Sold, published by Backbeat.

In Dan's words:


The book is a behind-the-scenes look at some "great lost albums," by folks like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Ray Davies, Seal and the Beastie Boys. Regarding the latter, for those who read Paul's Boutique and/or are curious, there's a chapter about the legendary Country Mike (and the equally legendary White House album), with the Beasties and friends finally revealing some details about each.

I should also say that there are at least three albums discussed in the book (Ray Davies' 80 Days score, the Jungle Brothers' Crazy Wisdom Masters, and Juliana Hatfield's God's Foot) which are unbelievably great and should be released within the next hour. If the book does anything at all to help win even one of them an official release, then this project will have been worth it a hundred times over.


Dan will be interviewed about the book on NPR's World Cafe show tonight, and also on Thursday next week.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Joe Bonomo's book notes

Largehearted Boy features Joe Bonomo's Book Notes today - a list of ten great songs that the Fleshtones (the subjects of Joe's book Sweat) have covered over the 30-plus years of their SuperRock existence. Here's just a couple of them:

“Cara-Lin,” The Strangeloves (1965)

A lot of people think that “Louie Louie” is the Fleshtones' sonic cornerstone, but “Cara-Lin” has always sounded to me like the one that The Fleshtones wouldn’t exist without. An irresistible hip-swinging groove, funny yell-along words, and an hilarious back-story involving three Jewish guys from New York pretending to be refugees from the Australian outback. Only in the 60s? The Fleshtones have been playing it since they formed.

“Anarchy In The U.K.,” The Sex Pistols (1977)

Historic: The Fleshtones were the first American band to play this song. They learned it from a mix-tape brought over from the U.K. by a friend, a local NYC rock journalist. The Fleshtones worked up a ragged, speedy cover and debuted it at Max’s Kansas City before Never Mind The Bollocks was released in the U.S.


I've probably said this a million times already, but Joe's book is a great, great piece of American rock'n'roll history. Well worth reading!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Oxford American

A quick plug for the 2007 Music Issue of the Oxford American, which features some great writers on some fascinating subjects:

Ben Greenman on Edridge Holmes
Derek Jenkins on Teddy Grace
Holly Gleason on Dwight Yoakam
Bill Friskics-Warren on the Clovers
Amanda Petrusich on Betty Davis
Jim Ruland on Amy LaVere
David French on Don Redman
William Bowers on Mayo Thompson
David Smay on Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks
Carol Ann Fitzgerald on Karen Dalton
Robert Lloyd on Van Dyke Parks
John Uhl on Reverend Charlie Jackson
Steve Klinge on Sandy Posey
John Jeremiah Sullivan on the Roches
Alex V. Cook on Daniel Johnston
Kevin Brockmeier on Iris DeMent
Aaron Cohen on Percy Mayfield
Devin McKinney on Betty Harris
Mike Powell on Fred Neil
Anthony Mariani on Zakary Thaks
Nick Weidenfeld on David Banner
Sam Stephenson on Thelonious Monk
Bruce Eder on Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones
Geoffrey Himes on the Hackensaw Boys
Scott Barretta on the Parchman Prison Band
Zeth Lundy on the International Submarine Band

and much, much more...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Aja reviewed

Don Breithaupt's excellent study of Steely Dan's Aja album is reviewed in the Sept/Oct issue of Canadian jazz-mag CODA - in a joint review, by Andrew Scott, with Tom Perchard's biography of Lee Morgan.

Here's the part of the review that best serves our purposes:

As Toronto-based keyboardist/vocalist/bandleader and author Don Breithaupt rightly points out in his excellent new book on Steely Dan's seminal recording Aja, "rock critics...first look for answers on a lyric sheet." Thankfully Breithaupt does not get caught in the snare he describes. True, he discusses Steely Dan's multi-dimensional and often "too hip for the room" lyrics; yes, he points to the so-called "cocaine sizzle" that was 1970s music making in Los Angeles, California - so deliciously lampooned by the creators of Yacht Rock - but equal attention is given here to the band's music. Breithaupt has the requisite Lester Bangs / Chuck Klosterman-style humour ("the great band member purge of '75") and journalistic muscle to dismiss musical comparisons based upon geography as "reductionist malarkey." But unlike these better-known music commentators, Breithaupt can both speculate and marshal a convincing argument on how Steely Dan's harmonic manipulation from G6-F6 to G13-F13 in "Deacon Blues" makes the passage "33% bluer," thus linking together music and meaning - not an easy task. The fact that Breithaupt has ears - and not just for cultural studies - makes Aja as good a piece of popular music writing as any.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Let's Talk About PDFs

If you'd like to read the first two chapters of Carl Wilson's upcoming Celine Dion book - well, you can!

Send an email to:


and we'll send you a PDF in return.

Life doesn't get much fairer than this.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sharon Jones reads Douglas Wolk!

This is a fantastic thing to wake up to on a Tuesday morning: Brooklyn's soul sensation Sharon Jones reading three passages from Douglas Wolk's Live at the Apollo book. You can hear the clips on the Daytrotter site.

100 Days, 100 Nights is the new album from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - it's out today, and you can listen to the wonderful title track on the band's myspace page right here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A quick Brian Wilson review

The UK's Total Music Magazine has posted this glowing review of our recent book, Inside the Music of Brian Wilson.

Some might argue that the prospect of a genuinely illuminating tome on the former Beach Boys mainman emerging after so many have already hit the shelves is about as likely as Richard Dawkins taking over presenter duties on Songs of Praise. However, Lambert’s deep-mining approach to the Wilson back catalogue – analysing his many and varied influences (Gershwin, the Four Freshman) and tracking the evolution of his songwriting style from straightahead surf-pop to elaborate triumphs like ‘Good Vibrations’ – does succeed in casting new light on the great man’s work. Indeed, at its simplest level, it highlights quite how much work was done, especially in the early ‘60s when Wilson had to balance a desire to develop his craft with numerous extra-curricular projects and constant calls for new BB product (the group made three albums in 1963 alone). It is, however, the section on the writing and recording of Pet Sounds that is most compelling, with Lambert expertly establishing recurring tonal motifs and the manner in which the lyrics of collaborator Tony Asher provided a perfect complement to Wilson’s ambitious music. At this point, the book approaches the level of scholarship that Ian MacDonald brought to the Beatles’ work with Revolution In the Head.

David Davies

I guess there's always next year...

From Bill Janovitz's Exile on Main Street.
Gram [Parsons], a trust-fund kid, was as restless a searcher and wanderer as Keith [Richards], one also interested in the mythology/reality dichotomy of America. Stanley Booth, a Georgian who felt an attachment to Parsons, recalls a 1969 conversations he had with Gram high in a hotel tower on Sunset Boulevard while waiting for the Stones to commence their American tour:
"Look at it, man," he said, as if he had read my thoughts. "They call it America, and they call it civilization, and they call it television, and they believe in it and salute it and sing songs to it and eat and sleep and die still believing in it, and--and--I don't know," he said, taking another drag, "then sometimes the Mets come along and win the World Series."
...and sometimes they don't even come close.